Postcard from Nervi, Genoa, Italy: Two modern art museums near the seaside

There was a little girl,
Who had a little curl,
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good,
She was very good indeed,
But when she was bad she was horrid.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

With one wall depicting sweets and attention lavished upon a good child and another the unpleasantness awaiting a naughty boy, Antonio Rubino (1880-1964) transformed a child’s room into illustrations seemingly plucked from the pages of a collection of nursery rhymes. The 1921 bedroom with a “City of Dreams” is but one of the unusual galleries encountered in Wolfsoniana, located in the seaside suburb of Genoa, Nervi. Here, among other things, we learned the Battle of Flowers is not unique to San Antonio; Ventimiglia is known for its Battaglia di Fiori.

The collection of art dating from 1880-1945 in this new museum reflects the interests of Miami-born Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. He opened the first museum showcasing his passions in 1995 in the Art Deco District in Miami Beach. As Wolfson became increasingly attached to Genoa, he moved some of his immense personal collections there. He considers himself, according to the Wolfson Collection website:

…a conservationist because of my desire to discover, but not possess. The challenge is to save endangered objects that are ignored or not held in admiration by others….

Before I decide to buy an object I think whether it belongs to the narrative or not. Truth and beauty don’t interest me particularly. I am interested in the language of objects….

It is the goal of my collection: “to make people think.”

…but I’m not interested in what you think: I shall simply be happy to have stimulated the birth of an idea within you, of a souvenir, a dream.

Mitchell Wolfson, Jr.

Nearby in the 15th-century Villa Saluzzo Serra, the Galleria d’Arte Moderna focuses on artwork from the beginning of the 19th century to contemporary. The base of the museum’s holdings came from Prince Oddone (1846-1866) of Savoy’s collection. The avid collector, a son of King Vittorio Emanuele II (1820-1878), was sickly and died at the young age of 19. The City of Genoa actively acquired art between 1912 and 1950 from the Venice Bienniale and Rome Quadriennale exhibitions, and some of Wolfsoniana’s overflow is on display in the villa as well.

Postcard from Nervi, Genoa, Italy: Seaside perch home to fishermen and the wealthy

The day was gray. Then it was sunny. It was the kind of day that couldn’t make up its mind, wavering back and forth. The lushly planted 22-acre grounds of Parchi Di Nervi and some of its museums were closed, as groundskeepers and museum staff refluffed everything after the wear and tear of the three-week-long Euroflora 2018, an event attracting 285,000 people to the park.

But none of that spoiled the outing to Nervi, a fishing village and seaside retreat now considered part of Genoa and only a short commuter train ride from its center. Handsome art nouveau or Liberty-style villas line her streets, and several museums (more later) welcomed us and one or two other visitors.

Named for the Brazilian-born wife (1821-1849) who fought alongside Guiseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882) in every battle he waged until she was felled by malaria, the winding mile-and-a-quarter long Passeggiata Anita Garibaldi hugs the rugged cliffs plunging down to the sea and provides stunning views at every turn. All of this so dramatically different from Genoa with its harbor full of freighters and cruise ships.

Taking a stairway down even closer to the sea than the passeggiata, we found an outside table perched on the balcony of Bagni Medusa for sampling some of the seafood the local fishermen haul in fresh daily.

Postcard from Genoa, Italy: The humorous patron saint of the grill

Strange to keep referencing my father, Lawrence Conway Brennan (1918-1988), in posts about Italy, but he had several things in common with his namesake saint, Saint Lawrence (225-258). And Saint Lawrence happens to be honored prominently in Genoa where the seat of the archbishop is the Cattedrale di San Lorenzo.

First of all, they were both treasurers, my father of the Columbian Peanut Company and Lawrence entrusted with the treasury and riches of the church by Pope Sixtus II (?-258). Then there is the grill. Valencian-born Saint Lawrence is pretty much always depicted with a gridiron at his side or underfoot and is known as the patron saint of cooks.

My father loved grilling, so much so that I actually grew sick of eating his prized marbled sirloin steaks and still am not much of a steak-eater today. His penchant for medium-rare did carry over to me. My father’s impeccable timing for grilling was governed by when he swilled the last sip of bourbon and water from his highball glass.

The iconography of Saint Lawrence’s gridiron is not as pleasant an association. While sometimes in subsequent centuries assuming responsibility for the Vatican treasury enabled accumulation of great personal wealth, the perks in 258 were not pleasant. Emperor Valerian (200-264) was not fond of Pope Sixtus II and his band. He demanded the Christian clergy perform sacrifices to the Roman gods. Failing to follow his order, Christian leaders were ordered executed.

You might have noticed Sixtus II and Saint Lawrence died during the same year, but Lawrence lived a few days longer. Missed during the initial sweep of those to be beheaded, the treasurer requested a delay of three days to assemble church treasures to “render them unto Caesar.” He rounded up the goods, but, instead of turning them over to Roman authorities, he distributed them to the poor and infirm.

Needless to say, the reallocation of church assets was not received well by the emperor’s minions. A simple beheading was deemed too merciful a fate for Lawrence. A massive gridiron was heated over a fiery bed of hot coals to ensure a slow, sizzling death process for him.

After roasting for a considerable amount of time, legend claims Saint Lawrence piped up with a request: “I’m well done on this side. Turn me over.” A memorable quip meriting his saintly status as a patron of both cooks and comedians.

The impressive 1828 silver reliquary, above, containing some of Saint Lawrence’s unidentified smoked body remnants in its chest, is housed amid a collection of impressive silver and gold treasures housed in a museum under the cathedral in Genoa. Included there is a ceremonial casket for transporting the ashes of Saint John the Baptist, presumably not including his head as we viewed it enshrined in Rome in the Basilica di San Silvestro in Capite, on appropriate church holidays. And displayed also is yet another chalice with claims of being used for Jesus’ final sip of wine at the Last Supper. No wonder the search through the centuries for the “real” Holy Grail has been so convoluted and controversial.

In memory of Saint Lawrence’s sacrifices, the Genoese built an impressive Duomo atop/around the site of several earlier churches. The cathedral was consecrated in 1118 by Pope Galasius II (1060-1119) during his brief year-long papal reign.

Obviously from the photos above, the handsome cathedral underwent numerous major changes through the centuries resulting in layers of different architectural styles.

Perhaps my father’s mastery of the art of grilling was directed by his patron saint perched upon his shoulder? That, accompanied by a little devil perched on his glass urging him not to let those ice cubes melt.